Written by Kim Bowman
Rachel Van Dyken recently revealed to me how frustrated she became with Grey, the hero in my and Kay Springsteen’s new release A Lot Like A Lady, at one point. (sorry—no spoilers!!). She said she just wanted to yell at him, but then WHAM! The “ah-ha” moment hit her.
I smiled and said, “BINGO!”
That was what Kay and I had been hoping to achieve. We wanted the readers to be frustrated because Grey was frustrated! This is the main goal authors should strive for. We want to draw the reader into the story and make sure he/she “lives it” with the characters, make the story “come to life” so to speak.
So…how do you come up with a recipe that works? How do you frustrate, sadden, anger the reader in a way that makes them still want to keep reading instead of slamming the book shut (ahem, shut down the ereader). How do you keep the reader reading?
1. Create characters the world can fall in love with. The reader wants to fall in love with the hero as the heroine does and vice versa. More than that, they crave villains they can love to hate. In order to reach this level, the audience has to believe the characters, but even more, they need to identify with them. They have to feel the way Rachel did when she got to that “ah-ha” moment, like everything had been leading to that moment. When we were first fleshing out our hero, Kay questioned if he was dynamic enough to be interesting to the reader. But after we added a few layers to his personality and got to know him, it became apparent that Grey is an amazing character who isn’t your normal knight-in-shining-arm-who-sweeps-the-maiden-off-her-feet type of guy. His heroism is much more subtle, much more realistic. So much so that by the time you reach the end of the story, he has become EXACTLY the kind of man you want to fall in love with.
2. Develop a plot that will keep the reader’s interest from start to finish. No matter what genre a person prefers, people read to escape real life and “live out a fantasy”. The quickest way to turn a reader off is to fill your book with mundane, everyday tasks like housecleaning, grocery shopping, ironing, cooking, etc. Now, I’m not saying keep these things out altogether, but find a clever way to do it. For instance, Kay and I used walking the dog (a very mundane task) as a way to help “progress” the budding feelings between Grey and Juliet. At one point, the simple task of taking Lord Percy out for a walk ended up creating a beautiful scene between our hero and heroine. Those things help move the story along and create believable characters. That is not the case when we throw in ordinary things that don’t advance the story. In other words, don’t write two or three pages about Suzie taking a shower, getting dressed, fixing her hair, putting on her makeup, going to the post office, the bank, picking up the dry cleaning, putting gas in the car, buying groceries, putting them away—do I need to go any further? The reader understands that these are tasks we do, so is writing details about running errands really going to enrich your story? Most of the time, it’s enough to say, “Suzie spent a day of running errands.” This also helps the reader connect with the story because when we “blanket” these routine chores, the reader is able to infuse his/her own daily actives, thus connecting with the story on a more personal level.
3. Form a bond with the reader using the sensory receptors touch, taste, smell, see, and hear by describing them in detail. Almost everything we do involves at least one of the five senses, so it’s vital that we constantly trigger them. It’s not enough to say, “He heard,” “She saw,” “He felt,” “She tasted.” The reader has to “go through the motions” with the character. Take for example this line A Lot Like A Lady where Juliet is expressing her disdain for creamed turnips.
The silver tureen of creamed turnips warmed her hands as she carried it to the table, though the smell made her stomach turn and she held her breath.
There’s enough detail to help the reader form a mental image and envision how those smells would make them feel, thus, they establish a link with the character, scene, and story. Would it have had the same effect if we’d just said, “Juliet took the silver tureen of creamed turnips to the table”? Not even close. It doesn’t sketch a clear enough visual in the mind’s eye so it doesn’t fully draw the reader into the atmosphere the writer wants to create. The more detail you can put into these senses (and the more you can avoid words like feel, see, saw, felt, heard, etc.) the better the reader relates to what the character is going through.
4. Solidify that bond with a deep POV that expresses the characters’ emotions and state of mind like happy, sad, angry, shy, embarrassed, remorse, just to name a few, to the point that when a character cries or hates another individual in the book, so does the reader. Okay, there was only one example we could put here. It is one of our favorite lines from the awesome Grey.
Finally, he lowered his head to trail kisses along her neck. “What is it your Shakespeare says about a rose? No matter the name, it still has the sweetest smell? You were always you, Juliet, even when you tried not to be.”
Each of these components plays an essential role in helping you write a story that gives the reader that AH-HA moment. That’s powerful and that’s what we want for our readers. We want to touch them so deeply they never forget it. Because if the story doesn’t grab the booklover’s attention and the words don’t pique his/her interest, then there won’t be an emotional connection, no reason to remember or relive the experience.
The ultimate goal (and greatest compliment) is for someone to say the story or characters stayed with them long after they closed the book. And frankly, if it doesn’t make you feel something, do you want to have it stuck in your head?
Ladies’ maid, Juliet Baines has gotten herself into a pickle by agreeing to go to London and taking the place of her mistress and best friend, Annabella Price, stepsister to the Duke of Wyndham. After all, what does a servant know about being a lady? But Juliet soon finds that pretending to be a lady isn’t nearly as hard as guarding her heart against the folly of wanting a man who’s completely out of reach.
Graeme "Grey" Roland Dominick Markwythe, Sixth Duke of Wyndham, approaches his duties as a nobleman with great dedication and meticulous care. And he’s a man who is not easily fooled...except when he tries to convince himself he's not utterly and madly in love with the beautiful imposter who has turned his life upside down. Will society and his responsibilities to his noble status keep him from opening his heart to the woman he loves?